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On a recent Saturday, I climbed a dingy flight of stairs to a mirrored studio filled with young, lithe and nimble dancers. I looked at my friend and she looked at me and I thought, This might have been a bad idea. It was my first Korean-pop, or K-pop, dance class and a direct result of my decision to start saying yes.
I’m Lanna Crucefix, communications manager for The Globe and Mail, and I’m two months into my personal Year of Yes.
You might have heard of the Year of Yes, popularized by television show creator and producer Shonda Rhimes. The idea is simple: Say yes to what scares you instead of no. For global powerhouse Rhimes, stepping out of her comfort zone included saying yes to giving commencement speeches and live TV interviews. Since these are not activities I need to consider, I read the book when it came out but thought nothing more about it.
Then daily life, as well as starting my morning with crime podcasts and the news, led me to burnout. This manifested in permanent irritability and a strong disinclination to leave the bed, and turned me into a person even I couldn’t stand to be around. As an introvert, being unable to deal with my own company was unbearable. Things had to change, but I didn’t know what to do.
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I’m an Aries born in the Year of the Tiger, which means I am astrologically predestined to live in a constant state of yes, and to some extent I do. There are few wacky plans I’m willing to pass up. Last year, my 72-year-old father idly mused he’d always dreamed of climbing Kilimanjaro. “Let’s go,” I chirped. We did.
But acting on impulsive grand gestures has ultimately led me nowhere new. Habits build the person and saying yes to the big things isn’t as important as saying yes when faced with the small decisions I come across every day. This was where I was failing because my default answer for daily life remained no. Hey, how about trying out a new exercise class? Sorry, can’t. There’s someone I’d like you to meet, want to join us? Not tonight.
Sometimes it was a soft no, sometimes an equivocal no, but no. No to all of the little things I suspected were central for creating true meaning and connections. I told myself it was because I was tired or busy, but the truth is saying no meant I didn’t have to get out of my comfort zone.
I was worried. If I was only existing and not living now, here in my 40s, what would I be like in my 90s (lord willing, I lasted that long)? Would I have narrowed my life to nothing but a pinhole, atrophying in my own habits and perspectives, unable to change even if I tried? Climbing Kilimanjaro felt life-changing in the moment, but once I was home that feeling I was truly living became a distant blur. I needed to say yes to everyday opportunities to live a fuller life.
So, what would happen if I started to say yes? The idea of a Year of Yes came slowly and I found I was doing it even before I remembered Rhimes’s experiment.
The first thing I said yes to was small – coffee one evening with a woman I wanted to get to know better. Although we’d done the “Hey, let’s get together” (polite shorthand for not getting together, ever) this time I committed. It was fun and I was happy I did it.
Then I said yes to a basketball game. And I liked that, especially when they lit flames over the nets. I wanted to go to a concert and when no one would go with me, I said yes to going alone. I read an article I loved and said yes to reaching out to the journalist, which in turn opened a new community of people to connect with. I write romance novels and I said yes to starting fresh in a new sub-genre, changing up my entire career path.
Few of these choices were big, but that’s the point of my Year of Yes. It’s a mindset of deliberately trying to widen regular experiences. Your yesses will be different than mine because your priorities and capabilities and anxieties are your own. In fact, as my colleague Lara Pingue wrote, your first yes might be to say no to the expectations placed on women to be successful at work, keep a tidy home, get fit and fix all of society’s ills before the end of the week.
A confession: My Year of Yes is made easier because saying no isn’t an issue for me. Saying no clears the mental space to say yes to what you want. Sometimes even acknowledging what you want is a radical decision. To want is to be vulnerable and open to rejection. For me, all of those little yesses were scarier than climbing Kilimanjaro because every yes risks failure.
I don’t yet know how the Year of Yes will turn out. The K-pop class, for instance, was a disaster. But at least I gave it a shot, and that’s the most I can ask of myself.
What else we’re thinking about:
Lenika Cruz’s beautifully written article in the Atlantic about joining the BTS fandom is a classic read. I was never into boy bands, so was taken aback by my own enthusiastic reaction when seven gorgeously dressed and excellently coiffed Korean twenty-somethings appeared in Times Square on New Year’s Eve with their precise dance moves. Her article spoke to me because the life of a fledgling middle-aged fangirl is not pretty: Eye rolls abound and someone asked if this is what a mid-life crisis looks like. But it’s also opened my mind to a world I never knew existed, which is both delightful (so much to learn) and humbling (if I overlooked one of the biggest bands in the world, what else am I missing?).
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